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Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 24, 2022 in Orlando, Fl.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

DeSantis leads ‘defanged’ Crist after hurricane, poll shows

The Republican governor holds an 11-point lead as Florida voters begin receiving vote-by-mail ballots.


Ahead in fundraising and advertising, Florida Gov Ron DeSantis has a large 11-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, according to a new poll of likely voters.

DeSantis’s 52% to 41% advantage in the Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey comes as Floridians began receiving vote-by-mail ballots across the state as it recovers from the ravages of Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in the southwest of the peninsula and exited its northeast quadrant last week.

The poll was completed Sept. 28, just as the storm struck and after DeSantis received wall-to-wall media coverage ahead of the hurricane’s landfall. Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said the exposure fortified DeSantis’s standing with voters overall, with 55% approving of the job he’s doing compared to 42% who disapprove.

Also, Coker said, the poll indicates that voters weren’t too bothered by the negative coverage of DeSantis’s stunt to secretly fly about 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha Vineyard to make a political statement about illegal immigration.

“I don’t think it was a problem and, if it was, the hurricane just wiped it out,” Coker said. “DeSantis is going to be Governor Hurricane for the next couple weeks. The disadvantage Crist has is two-fold: he’s completely out of the news and he never managed a hurricane so he can’t stand up and point to what he did. So Crist is totally, totally defanged.”

While some have questioned Florida’s disaster response under DeSantis — namely the delayed evacuation order in hard-hit Lee County — emergency management experts have pointed out that local officials are in charge of calling for evacuations, and some don’t fault Lee County, either. Unofficial estimates of Ian’s death toll stand at more than 100 in Florida.

Mason-Dixon’s poll results are essentially unchanged from a prior survey Coker conducted in February.

DeSantis, who’s positioning himself for a potential White House bid in 2024, is hoping to have a large-margin win over Crist as a springboard for a possible presidential campaign, Republican insiders told NBC in May. The past three races for governor, including DeSantis’s first campaign for the office in 2018, were decided by about a percentage point or less.

DeSantis has raised an historic amount of money in his political committee and campaign accounts, which together have $106 million in the bank — 27 times more cash on hand than the $3.9 million that Crist has in his political and campaign committees, according to campaign finance data.

DeSantis is outspending Crist on TV by a factor of more than 10 — $16 million to about $1.6 million in the general election, according to the tracking service AdImpact.

Kevin Cate, a former adviser to Crist in his 2014 gubernatorial bid, calculated that DeSantis, during the week of Ian’s arrival and departure from the state, earned $110 million in free TV time nationally, $16.5 million of which was in Florida.

In an expensive TV state as big as Florida, which has 10 major media markets, the ad-spending and cash-on-hand disparities are glaring problem for Crist, whose struggles were predicted by fellow Democrats as soon as he won the Aug. 23 primary.

The Mason-Dixon poll shows DeSantis is winning a higher share of the Republican vote than Crist is of the Democratic vote, and the governor is getting more Democratic voters when compared to the percentage of Republican voters picking Crist.

DeSantis is also handily winning independents by 52% to 39%, and he’s carrying white voters by 62% to 31%. But Crist is winning Black voters 87% to 9% and Hispanic voters by 50% to 42%. The poll’s overall error margin is 3.5 percentage points.